Twenty some odd episodes and I’m finally done with this. I’ve been waiting to pass judgment on SAO an extremely popular series that episode by episode I’ve been following despite how much it aggravates me. It’s finally time I take the axe to Sword Art Online while it’s still fresh out of the ovan. I’ve held my tongue on it for a quiet a bit, though from previous .hack vs SAO discussions on anime vice (like this one here by one of our very good users takashichea) it’s obvious which side I fervently lean to. Regardless of my feelings let’s look at exactly what SAO is and why it’s both popular and why its something I feel so volatile in my distaste for it.
First popping into view during the middle of this year SAO went from a series of light novels to this year’s biggest anime hit without a question. Featuring the story of a young man named kirito who after starting to play the new and popular SAO a virtual reality MMO. He discovers (as well as every other player) that there is no logging out and that they are stuck in the game. Worse than that if they die in the game it means being killed in real life. The Show is segmented into two different stories dealing with two entirely different games, it’s like a sequel built into the same long season, first dealing with that and the second with a more magic and flying based MMO.
The stuck in a video game genre was really popular years ago with things like tron popping up everywhere, but the idea of it in an MMO only really became super popular in the late 90s and early 20s with the .hack franchise. With very popular games, mangas, animes, and even movies .hack and its makers, cyber connect, held an almost complete monopoly on the entire sub-genre. However, through completely ignoring the franchise as a whole and mismanaging it, the sub-genre has been left vacant until recently; this more than likely causing the big success that SAO has been for its author, the animation studio A-1 Pictures and all the networks that aired it. I do know historically being an successful anime generally grantees some level of quality, but as my feelings for One Piece and Lucky Star have shown this is not always the case.
Since SAO is in two parts I feel it’s best to give the pros and cons to both parts separately. SAO is an A=1 pictures anime and to put it straight A-1 is a great animation studio. It’s Young, but everything it’s worked on has always shown high levels of quality in terms of number of frames as well as the uses of both color contrast and color volume to make very striking visuals without being jarring or relying on surrealism. While it’s not exactly creative with its art, it’s functional and beautiful. The Characters, especially the main two (Kirito and Asuna) strike me as both inoffensive and easy to sympathize with, even if combined barely having the complexity or intellect of Hodor from game of thrones (which is to say having none at all). The action is functional and fun to watch, feeling fairly visceral, but the most positive thing about part one is that it has this addictive quality where, despite its flaws, you find yourself following it forward.
The negatives however are bothersome. While A-1 art is of high quality the writing is piss poor. It’s a series raked with established idea that are not only fictional, but make no rational sense and seems to show a complete lack of foresight or understand of the world. Whenever the series finds that itself back into a narrative corner SAO simple drops whatever issue it had and pretends the previously established rules of the series don’t exist. I.E. early in the series they establish there are no respawning quest items or monsters (forcing competition amongst the players), when that’s no longer the angle the show wants to go for people are suddenly talking about farming spawn points and quests. While every little thing in SAO is explained, the explanation tends to just be poorly thought out and general toss aside later to be ignored by the writers. Without a sense of cohesive story telling the illusion of SAO is almost completely shatter, but there is more. The series lacks a cohesive tone as well. Half the episodes seem to focus on this episodic story of a “Lone wolf” out doing random often completely unnecessary tasks while the other episodes focus on a strange couple style duo living a romantic life on the games “front lines”. The issue is that it switches between the two tones, constantly keeping either from being taken as seriously as one would assume it is to be. Lastly the part one ending both makes no sense and ignores every rule or established premise in the series (or in the real world for that matter).
Part two is about the same thing on the positive side. The art remains the same high quality and good use of said art. The Characters and story are more focused (if less interesting) and the tone is relatively consistent. The Main villain is much more prominent and evil in a way we can understand. Lastly the final confrontation is more meaningful and makes a certain amount of sense; a positive change from the previous “final confrontation”.
The Negatives are far more damning. While SAO’s first half was nonsense and honestly stupid, it was fun to watch in a mind numbing sense. Part two is not just stupid, AND it’s boring worst of all. The stakes are lowered to rescuing one person not thousands making the whole thing seem less important. The Lone wolf and love story are replaced with a aggravating wincest love triangle, which doesn’t work because one of the characters in the triangle isn’t even there to participate. The choices characters make as well as the villains simply don’t have much rational sense especially seeing as easier and simpler solutions were constantly available. The second bit doesn’t even do anything interesting with the MMO background to begin with and just to put the nail in the coffen with the combat taking place mostly in the sky and having less of it makes the fight scenes feel incredibly diminished both in impact and in frequency.
SAO to me is a stunning disappointing, worst off not even an interesting disappointment. While it’s not the worst anime out there it’s left one of the most bitter tastes in my mouth despite its A-1 pictures quality given to the art and animation. I don’t like a lot of animes, but I hate very seldom few, SAO I hate. Narratively broken, creatively bankrupt, and childishly written. I’m so happy to be done with the whole mess. I give SAO 2.5 characters using skill sets they just said didn’t exist out of 5. It’s not as dysfunctional as other animes, just left me, M, feeling completely cheated. Sorry for the hate on, hope you all have a merry Christmas Anime vice. Later.